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Photo: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration is recommending health workers use N95 masks only once since personal protective equipment is now readily available, AP reported on Friday.

The big picture: PPE shortages at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic made the Trump administration issue guidelines for health workers to reuse disposable equipment, such as N95 masks. Manufacturers are now saying they have excess equipment and healthcare facilities have massive stockpiles, per AP.

What they're saying: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recommending health care personnel and facilities transition away from crisis capacity conservation strategies," the agency said in a letter to health workers, per AP.

But, but, but: The recommendation is not an order. Healthcare facilities are still allowed to sterilize and reuse N95 masks.

What's next: The FDA will release updated guidance in the coming weeks or months and will eventually require that hospitals return to single-use, Suzanne Schwartz, director of the FDA’s office of strategic partnerships and technology innovation, told AP.

Go deeper

Updated Jul 31, 2021 - Health

Chart: Less than 0.1% of vaccinated Americans tested positive for COVID-19

Expand chart
Data: CDC and state Covid dashboards via NBC. Dani Alberti/Axios

Of the 164 million vaccinated Americans, around 125,000 people have tested positive for breakthrough infections and 0.001% have died, according to state data compiled from state dashboards by NBC and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: While "breakthrough cases" have been getting media attention, the low numbers show that the pandemic is mostly a threat for the unvaccinated population.

Updated Jul 29, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on social determinants of health

On Thursday, July 29 at 12:30pm ET, Axios senior editor Sam Baker and health care reporter Caitlin Owens hosted a virtual conversation on the social determinants of health, featuring Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Mary T. Bassett, director of Harvard University's FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.

Rep. Cheri Bustos discussed how Congress is working to address inequities in social determinants of health and how the pandemic exacerbated inequities in resources for care.

  • On empowering local communities to address social determinants of health: “We now are advancing [the Social Determinants Accelerator Act] in the House with the idea being, let's investigate what the social determinants are. Let's let local communities apply for that money and then have the money in that program to actually do something about it once those negative social determinants are discovered through investigation.”
  • On the pandemic’s influence on health care: “We're living in a whole new health world because of this pandemic. What we've learned is that telehealth can be an important part of somebody's health. That all of a sudden you don't have access to mass transit because you can't leave your house. It is a problem to be able to get that health care.”

Mary T. Bassett unpacked these issues from the public health perspective, focusing on equity in access to healthy living, and the current challenge of the pandemic.

  • On unequal access to care: “The 20th century saw the biggest advancements in life expectancy that have been documented in human history, but they weren't experienced equally. And that's a problem. And it wasn't just a problem of access to health care, although we all have the right to access to health care. In my view, it's also just about access to all the things that make up a healthy life.”
  • On the vaccine and mask mandates: “It is truly a case of the challenge of public health, which is the need to protect the many and the need to protect individual rights, they have to be balanced. And on that scale, public health always puts the protection of the majority of people as carrying more weight.”

Axios chief people officer Dominique Taylor hosted a View from the Top Segment with EVP & Chief Medical Officer Employer & Individual at United Healthcare Dr. Rhonda Randall where they discussed how to address health disparities through tools and initiatives.

  • On building a more sustainable, equitable health system: “Research has shown that in addition to that, there are many factors contributing to and driving our health outcomes. And ultimately, it's where we're spending our time. It's not in the doctor's offices, in our communities, in our homes and in our places of work. So things like housing, education, food insecurity and transplant, transportation and access to care are important. And those social determinants of health and advancing health equity is really integral to building that future sustainable, modern, high performing health system.”

Thank you UnitedHealth Group for sponsoring this event.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.